Celebrated Nahanni River guide Neil Hartling recounts the grisly tale of the McLeod brothers, whose misfortune a century ago still casts a spooky spell over this wild and haunting region.

Hartling, founder of Nahanni River Adventures (now Nahanni Wild) has paddled the river more than 50 times and the experience in the valley is different every single time. “Deadman Valley always holds an aura of mystique. It seems to create its own weather. The mists come rolling in,” he says. “It just seems to be its own place and have its own spirit.”

How did it get its frightful name? Brothers Frank and Willie McLeod went prospecting in the Nahanni in 1905 and they didn’t come home. When their uncle went looking for them a few years later, he found them – dead and headless.

“From that event, the stories of the Nahanni quickly spread through popular culture and Nahanni was referred to as the River of Headless Men,” Hartling says. “It coloured the Nahanni and started its place in Canadian culture and mythology.”